THE MOTION OF SOUND
In the classic Japanese tradition (and not only), to look at a painting means to move through it with your eyes. In other words, not to have ideas about what you were going to encounter because to proceed in the vision was a progressive action, coinciding with the gesture of unrolling, unwinding the painting (as in a scroll). In this context, the experience of looking was wandering. It took place in time, as well as in space.
The connection between the ancient act of observation (the pictorial work) and the meaningful trip, or journey is immediate and to be explored.
The gap between that way of exploring a painting and the path currently taken to observe-view a painting by Shuhei Matsuyama is proportional to the distance, the temporal separation (placed in antiquity compared to contemporary), terraqueous and cultural between east and west, over which the works of this artist extend a bridge, and thus set up a relationship of continuity in the transformation of the two “shores”.
“The dream of the shore, is another shore”
The word ‘bridge’, when evoking its stylized image, is easily associated with the concept of movement, of ‘passing’ or ‘of passage’, and this visual element becomes, in the works of Matsuyama, the ‘center’ and heart. That is to say, a place of journeying and wandering: the line, and before it as well as in it, an occurrence of pulsations which record rhythms and arrhythmies, sonorous paths of ancient origins, as remote and present as a heartbeat and breathing.
Whatever the point-moment of beginning the vision-listening of a Matsuyama work, the eye is called to roam, iterating in one direction or another along changeable marks-reliefs and pulsations of lines.
The act of viewing is carried out along the way, movement which travels the apparent immobile space of the painting, and at the same time is driven, at times steadily and urgently by the materialization of lines which emerge with the same consistency and discontinuity of a ‘superficial’ relief of the painting, making two possible dimensions or ‘readings’ of it distinct.
Line: water confine between earth and sky? Whether they are sleek and fine, acute, or heavy and dense, luminous and reverberating until they become strident or withheld, contracted and shaded in their murmuring, these lines are gaps, fractured from the margins and inconstant movements between body and sound.
The sound is, in any case, an undeniable emanation of the body, and the latter is transformed by the issuing forth of the former.
Sometimes the line is a body of sounds which ‘writes’ of water motions between sky and earth, or their visual and resonant re-echoing in moving reflecting waters. Some lines would seem to speak of the particular breath of a city set among sky, water and memory, recollections, evocations of other lands…
In producing a sensation of rest which, however, betrays restless internal mobility, the vibrant profile line recalls the nature of fluvial waters or canals and… the Sound of water, a fluctuating sound that grows and advances.
It is the boundary which unifies and distinguishes between that which cannot be divided: Heaven and Earth. Between these two dimensions there is man; in those lines which are paths and also horizons which are never the same.
Restless horizons of the wanderer’s glance, or of one who asks and asks of himself.
All of Matsuyama’s works are animated by this abstract reality of form, resonant in color and internalized until they take on different symbolic values. They appear as repetitions of differences of movement and rhythmic or arrhythmic vibrations and present two paths for visual and intellectual reading, which in this ‘place’ (Matsuyama’s work) lead to the same ‘knowing’.
One of the paths concerns the search which in Latin is called ‘reductio ad unum’, i.e. search for the common denominator – unifying and directed at pointing out differences. The other is a deductive path which produces explanation and distinction of differences. Both paths are situated within the equilibrium between marks and visibly ‘temperate’ space which come from the interior order of the artist, like in the revelation of the relationship (almost always present in a work) among intent, project and occasion, and between causal elaboration and the fortuitousness eruption of being an artist. The difference in repetition can produce a break, but along the path (repetition of the difference) it supports the continuity.
What continuity? That which is written in motion; certainly not in the atrophy of that which is repeated without producing development. It is necessary to not confuse the orderly rest and equilibrium, which are principal qualities in some works by Matsuyama, with immobility. Motion is becoming, transformation. The continuity is in essence, therefore, continuity in and of transformation.
To listen to the interior sound of the works of Matsuyama (and to internalize it) is also to listen to the motion of sound, which is antecedent and at the same time intrinsic to visual perception of the body of lines in space.
Between the sensorial perception of a work and its intellectual and linguistic articulation and elaboration, we often find one or more elements which can be called poetic happenings and which make up the basis of the significant structure of the work.
In Matsuyama’s work, their poetic aspect essentially concerns the always different rapport between line, color, sound. Not a dual rapport, but a thematic one in which the third invisible element, sound, which is precluded from view, animates the visible until it becomes the main ‘poetic’ which, (returning to the original meaning of poem, derived from poiesis, meaning to ‘do’ or ‘make’) can rise up to be the creative beginning or, rather, the beginning of ‘making’ art.
Among the sounds which help create these places (these paintings), the sound of the gods is present, and this permits introduction of ancient theories (particularly Indian) regarding the beginning of the universe: Sound is considered the origin of the cosmos. The word produces the differences of which the universe is composed, but the word is bearer and protector of the creative power she invests, in other words, the primordial sound which simply manifests itself in rhythmic vibrations of pure resonant quality.
Because it is the beginning, primordial sound has no sound; because it is the creative power which is action and word, it is vibration and rhythm, perceived before it has form.
The essence of Matsuyama’s works can be precisely traced back to vibration and rhythm, whether it’s harmonic or in discord, and language takes shape in the infinite variety of possible interactions among forms (in this case, principally lines) and color. And the energy of this latter is as close as possible to light where the eye meets white surfaces; its symbolic value is nearly universally understood as ‘purity’.
Closely tied to color there is another element which is present in these works: the paper. In its fine texture and transparency it is both present and absent, in one moment imperceptible and in another perceptible. As a virtue of its particular fiber and use by the artist, while technically it is laid over the surface, it is an element which cannot be separated from, but rather is wed to the color. Absorbed into the body of the work, it is never connected to an impression or sensation of simple overlap, decorative intention or redundancy.
In conjugating forms and colors, it becomes, at the moment of perception, an element which hides and reveals, but never dims, the energy of the color. In its transparent rippling and fineness, its texture loses purely material ‘reality’ and acquires a ‘natural’ value; what I wish to emphasize is the ancient Japanese use of giving nature symbolic values tied closely to the spirit, to the sacred, to the ‘divine’.
Sometimes the paper can evoke rivers, fog, vapors, a release of light, or it can produce rarefactions which add to the atmosphere of the work, dominated by chromatic intensity and sound. At times, the paper permits an even finer and more complete diffusion and expansion of the light of the color within the space of the work. The vibration is at the same time diffuse, extended and rarified. The delicate paper attenuates and echoes not only sound, apparently associated with and surrounded by the structure of the body of lines, but it also generates resonance.
The suggestion of fineness and lightness of the element (recurrent aspects since antiquity in many religious rituals, daily life and art of Japan), leads me to speak of western culture in terms of ‘the culture of stone’, and Japanese culture in terms of ‘the culture of wood’ as well as ‘the culture of paper’. If the possible symbolic value we associate with paper is almost exclusively connected to calligraphy, writing or contemporary graphics, we should note that in Japan its symbolic value (in particular when it is white) is closely and intimately connected to the spirit, to the ‘eternal part of the being’.
From the connection between form and color, a symbolic alphabet is born which stretches from the universally held symbolic value if color (within the particular differences for each culture or individual) and the symbolic potential of color (in relation to form) to the third element: invisible sound which makes the painting a possible place for listening wandering. Listening, if favored by concentration and the silence of the self, makes it possible to hear that particularly intense quality of sound and music which consists of ‘moving affection’. There is no distance between sensorial perception of the form-color-sound configuration and the rising of the soul, of the motion of the spirit, generated by the energy of colors of lines and segments that tell in the space of the work about vibrations and bring forth vibrations. There is never a suggestion of conclusion. It is up to the careful observer to follow the signs, the indications offered by resonant evocations and stirrings of (interior) motion in these works, to trust his or her own sensitivities, experiences, intuitions and capacity for silence which all go hand in hand with the capacity for listening.
A witness to something that ‘moves’ the work and at the same time is immanent and transcendent of the work itself, sound without sound remains, however, active in it as its primary motivation, the third element which permits subtle intuition of the motion and transformation.
The apparently simple reading of the formal and chromatic symbolism reveals itself to be full of the invisible presence of a sound to be listened to without ears, to be perceived as vibrations and psychic motion. The Sound of the heart, the interior sound.
“Tao (‘way’, but also ‘speak’, ‘words’) at its origin generates the One
the One generates the Two
the Two generates the Three
the Three generates Ten thousand beings
Harmony is born of the blowing of the intermediate Emptiness
by Monique Sartor